Monday, May 15, 2006

Delays on the District Line

Had the most delightful day. It started with delays on the District Line due to over-running engineering works and finished with no DLR, a D7 with dodgy front doors and delays on the District Line due to too many trains in front...

I have just about managed to de-stress listening to Handel's Water Music and shelling peas. Peas in a pod always make me feel nostalgic. One of my jobs as a child. I no longer have a garden step on which to carry out this simple pleasure so had to make do with the kitchen table.

Pea frittata and cold roast beef for dinner. Lovely.

I forgot to mention an embarrassing episode that occurred last Monday.

I had an important meeting at the Town Hall for which I toddled off on the Docklands. Many of the stations are 'in the air' as it were and involve lots of steps. I could see the Town Hall clearly from Blackwall but couldn't quite work out how to penetrate the wall surrounding the place. I caught up with the man in front, who resembled a porter, in the hope he could help me out. We had a lovely little chat as he led me through a gateway I probably would never have found on my own.

He went his way and I went mine. At least I tried to but there was a man blocking the rotating doors. I was just about to proffer an 'excuse me' when he moved. So I moved. He stopped. I slapped straight into the back of him. In amongst the side-stepping and apologies that ensued I thought I recognised the guy and decided I must know him from the education department or something. I issued forth a cheery “hello”. As he replied, complimenting me on my “fine hair” it dawned on me I'd made a terrible mistake. I didn't know him at all.

It was George Galloway!!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday Roast

For various different reasons, not least we were rarely at home on a Sunday but out and about, we fell out of the habit of a lunchtime Sunday roast. Since we have been receiving our monthly meat box they have made an evening comeback.

Last Sunday's slow roasted belly of pork stuffed with garlic and herbs was simply delicious. Today, it has been surpassed. Salt-crust sirloin with roast beetroot accompanied by a crème fraîche, horseradish, chives and parsley sauce and Jerseys. With the exception of the horseradish I know exactly from which farm all the different ingredients originated. The end result? Divine.

Behind the BNP vote

The BNP's election successes in Barking are devastating but not surprising. The sense of powerlessness and frustration has long been documented since the far-right party gained 17% of the vote in last year's general election. A slick and effective campaign, in which the party appeared to be listening, exploited peoples misconceptions and fears around four principle areas: housing, education, health and crime.

Speaking in the House of Commons the MP for Dagenham, Jon Cruddas, who lives with his family in the heart of the community he represents (unlike Hodge who lives in leafy Islington), sets the scene:

‘Let us consider some of the basic characteristics of the community that I represent. It is the lowest-wage economy in Greater London and one of the most deprived boroughs in the capital. Adult numeracy is the second lowest in the country, literacy is the fourth lowest. The number of residents with higher educational qualifications is the lowest in the country. Heart and lung disease, infant mortality and life expectancy are among the worst in the capital.’

One of the biggest reasons for this rejection of Labour is apparently housing. Barking and Dagenham has the cheapest house prices in London but they are still unattainable for the many. Most of the properties are ex-council flats and houses. Herein lies the problem. There is a lack of social housing because it has unceremoniously been sold off. Some of those who complain their children cannot get a council flat fail to realise that this is in large part down to themselves, others in their families and their friends who have bought their council-owned properties, sold them on at a profit and consequently they are rented out privately at much higher rates. This is not acknowledged and the housing crisis is blamed on the newcomers – mostly foreigners.

In my block of six flats only mine is still municipally owned. Two are lived in by the people who own them; the remaining three are rented privately at twice the price of mine per month. These three flats are rented by foreign families – one African and two Polish. They all work incredibly hard for their money -long shifts and often unsociable hours - and yet are stigmatised, quite wrongly, for scrounging off the State.

My teaching career started in Barking and Dagenham. The lowest achieving pupils all come from the indigenous local population – white working class boys. Barking is characterised by a huge underclass where education is not seen as important. Expectations are low and, at times, non-existent. Children and their families have little or no aspirations for the future. Local industries are on the decline, e.g. Fords at Dagenham, once a one-trade town, and there are few opportunities for unskilled labour – even though the Borough still pays some of the lowest wages going. Immigrant families place much more emphasis on doing well at school and often lead much more structured lives. These pupils get a better start in life and when they succeed cries that they have been given the best over the local white kids soon follow.

The big diseases – cancers, heart and lung conditions – are common. From what I can see, and from the children I taught, diets are unvaried and poor. Cheap frozen and processed meals; sugary, fatty snacks and gallons of fizzy drinks. Fresh fruit and veg is readily and cheaply available on Barking market but the take-up is probably nowhere near the recommended five a day. Combined with smoking and drinking from an early age and a lack of exercise health problems proliferate. The pressure on the local health services is high and can lead to a perceived lack of quality and urgency. The blame is attributed to foreigners having too many children and bringing illnesses – such as HIV and Aids – with them. It doesn't seem acceptable to ask people to question their own lifestyles and to point out it is people who are very similar to themselves who are clogging the system.

People are scared of crime. Big groups of kids hanging around with nothing to do and are often seen as intimidating. Car insurance is higher than most areas in the country due to the massive risk of vandalism or theft. The statistics for sexual assault, robbery, vehicle theft, burglary and violence against the person are higher than the national average. The latter has a national rate of 16.5 per 1,000 people. In Barking this rises to 31. It's all very depressing.

So, where does this leave us? Suspicious of one another and universally hated. I was apoplectic with rage when I read two letters in the Barking and Dagenham Post, one from Tyne on Wear and another from Suffolk, which told the people of Barking that we should be ashamed of ourselves and congratulated us in the most sarcastic tones for having elected the BNP to the council.

Shocking though the result is we need to keep a sense of perspective. The turn out rate was 38.3% for the borough as a whole. The BNP gained 12 seats out of a total of 51 – fewer than a quarter of the seats. The majority of people in Barking and Dagenham did not vote for the BNP and are not racist. Tarring us all with the same brush is lazy and disingenuous.
The wake-up call cannot be clearer or louder. It is now up to all the people who do care about Barking to work with the other mainstream political parties locally, however odious they may at times appear to be, to promote practical solutions to some very big problems.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why Live in Barking? Reason One.

As a consequence of a swollen and ludicrously painful gum (which I put down to wisdom teeth trouble), I rang a very pleasant-looking dentists in Barking to see if I could register. I fully expected them to say no given the horror stories frequently recorded in the national press about the availability of dentists.

To my great surprise, once I explained I wanted to register and needed an appointment after 4.30pm, the receptionist not only offered me an appropriate time within 2 days but also advanced the following question: “Would you like to be treated as an NHS or private patient?”.

Well, blow me down. My new Russian dentist and Polish dental nurse were very nice and professional , even if I do now have antibiotics with which you cannot drink, and a check-up, x-ray and polish cost £15.50 at NHS prices. Not many places you can say that for in this day and age!


Children with dyslexia often have a terrible time at school. I can only imagine how frustrating it is when you are creative and imaginative but are unable to put the ideas down in the traditional way, ie. with pen on paper. We teach the children strategies and skills to help them with their learning and encourage staff to offer alternative ways of introducing, displaying and recording information.

Walking towards the escalator a couple of weeks ago at West Ham station I read a prominent sign: THE HEAT MIGHT GET TO 24C IN LONDON TODAY . PLEASE DRINK LOTS OF WATER AS THE CARIDGIS WILL GET HOT AND STUFFY.

My first reaction was to cringe but I then wondered why we place such a huge emphasis on correct spelling. I knew, from the context, exactly what was meant so what did the spelling really matter?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Race Hate Capital of Britian

The few regular readers of this blog may rightly have realised that I've not mentioned the local elections that took place on Thursday yet.

I knew it was going to happen but that doesn't prepare you for the headlines that declare that the town in which you live is now the 'race hate capital of Britain' (Evening Standard) or 'the far right capital of Britian' (Guardian). The BNP had a field of 13 candidates across the 17 wards that comprise the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. 11 have been elected as councellors with a twelfth to be added, in all likelihood, once a clerical order has been overturned in the High Court next week. I took some consolation that in my ward the BNP was not elected but that was shortlived as he is the twelth man.

It's thoroughly depressing and I have so much to say on the matter that it's all jumbled up in my head at the moment. There'll be more in due course.


Last weekend we decided a picnic would be in order on Sunday. We got up to grey skies and a light drizzle and both felt thoroughly depressed. We had the 'what do you want to do?' conversation where you're not sure if each other is answering honestly so are both trying to second guess what is really meant. (We rarely have conversations of this kind thankfully). We ended up bravely trusting in the weather forecast which said skies in Kent would be clear. Our original plan of Broadstairs (childhood holidays, home to Dicken's Bleak House and wonderful Italian ice cream) changed to the nearer Whitstable (world-famous for its oysters) just in case the weather man was wrong.

The weather forecast was wrong. The skies weren't just clear. They were a glorious blue and the sun was merrily shining on us all. Coats discarded, we sat and ate out picnic on the beach in shirt-sleeves. It was truly wonderful.